A love note to books

book 2 I recently saw a little kid almost walk into a wall because she was reading a book.

It made me so very happy.

Not just because I think it's funny when people run into things, but because I totally understand the enraptured joy that kid was feeling because of her book.

I've had several people ask me recently why I love books so much. (I'm assuming it's just a question, and not an accusation, like, what is wrong with you, you freaky book girl?) Some people ask me how to start the reading habit, or how they can encourage their kids.

I began my love of books as an extremely emotional and introverted three-year-old. Books were a way to discover the world, escape from my own, and inspire my writing. Characters in books became my closest friends. By the time I was four years old, I was working as an actor and traveled frequently for shoots, so real-life friends were harder to maintain than the ones on the page. Those characters were always there when I needed them, and they always accepted me and welcomed me into their world - it didn't matter how different I was.

My heart sighs with delight to see a kid reading. They are expanding their mind, learning about the world and figuring out their place in it. Especially now that video games and movies and TV can be all-consuming - reading is all the more sweet.

I'm not going to go on a technology rant and bash TV- I love a good Netflix binge. I love technology. I love my Kindle. I also love paper books and I think there is room for both. I once heard someone say that in the whole physical vs. ebook debate, they were "container neutral" and I thought that was brilliant. I don't care how we get the words. We just need to get them.

The incredible thing about books is that you can read about absolutely anything. I don't believe you need to cave to books you "should" read. If Dostoyevsky doesn't do it for you - no sweat. Read what makes you feel alive and inspired. Read what you love. Is it sailing? Robots? 14th century farming techniques? Great. Find a book about it. Can't find a book about it? Write a book about it.

Read a book that grabs you by the collar and throws you into the chair. And - this is controversial advice - if you don't like a book, I believe you have permission to stop reading it. I give a book 50 pages to make me fall in love. If not, no hard feelings, but we go our separate ways. There are too many things I want to read, I won't force myself to slog through something and resent it. I don't think authors want you to suffer while reading their work. (Okay, maybe some do, but I don't.) For me, reading is pure joy. Pure happiness.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't read something that challenges you, pushes you out of your comfort zone and makes you think differently. Great art has a way of doing that. Art, at its core, is an expression of life and beauty. It might not seem traditionally beautiful - but the best book will contain something breathtaking, hidden in the form of deep truth and skilled wordsmithing.

And there is nothing that makes me happier than discovering something unexpectedly beautiful.

(If you are interested in knowing what books I love, and what I'm currently reading - check out my Goodreads profile, and friend me so we can share book recommendations! I also have specific shelves there for my favorite books on anxiety, meditation, writing, etc.)

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Viva L'Italia

"If we get married, we should have our wedding here because it's so romantic." I choked on the chocolate chip gelato I was shoving in my face.

"Dude - you can't just say shit like that."

(I've always known how to ruin a moment.)

But the thing was - I loved him exactly because he'd say shit like that. He was confident and authentic and didn't play games.

We'd been dating for all of 3 months - but we'd been friends for 5 years before that. And suddenly one day, I couldn't imagine life without him. He was my partner. He felt like home. And he was right, Italy was incredibly romantic.

But, I was 22 years old, I swore I'd never get married, and I wasn't totally sure that I could give up the habit of making out with my co-stars in my trailer during lunch breaks. But he was the first guy that really made me consider it. That's why I had brought him to Italy.

For the year or two prior, I had been contemplating a slow exit out of acting - I thought maybe I'd be happier working behind the camera. I produced a short film called Day After Day and it was selected to be in a showcase at the Cannes Film Festival. What a perfect way to show off to my new boyfriend.

So, three months into our relationship, I invited him to come to France on my work trip to take the film to the festival. We traveled around Italy as well - which is where he made me choke on chocolate chip gelato.

Four years later, I realized I really was done with kissing boys in my trailer (and actually, I realized I was done with the trailers and the films that provided them, as well) so we went back to Italy and said vows.

Jakub 007

And now, after 9 years of marriage, we are on our way back to Italy to celebrate my husband's 40th birthday. Because I married the kind of guy who says that what he wants most for his birthday is to go back to that very romantic place.

He always has the best ideas.

So, I'll be back in a couple of weeks. I'll eat some gelato for you.

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Le acne: when movies and real life collide

When I was working as an actor, I had a precise system to decide whether to accept or decline a role. I asked myself the following questions:

• Is it a good script? • Will it provide an interesting acting challenge? • Will I get to go to a cool location?

The answer to only one of those questions needed to be affirmative, and I would commit the next three months of my life to a project.

Thusly, when I was 16, I worked on a TV movie in the south of France. I played a girl who was kidnapped and stolen away to be violated as a sex slave or alternatively, harvested for internal organs, whichever option proved to be more profitable for my bad guy captors.

I don’t need to tell you which one of my three prerequisites this project fulfilled.

And yes, it fulfilled only one.

The shoot was extra challenging because we filmed an English version as well as a French version. We would do one take in English, one French, back to English. It was brutal. I had studied French but it was high school French, words pertaining to libraries and chalkboards. I never learned the phrases required for this project, things like, “Please monsieur, don’t take my kidneys.”

At age 16, I could have passed for 12. I'd stare at my very un-Hollywood chest with loathing and confusion. Didn’t my breasts realize that we were in films?  The movie industry had pigeon-holed me where it shoves all of their flat-chested brunettes -- roles like best friend, tomboy or Joan of Arc. My agents kindly labeled me as an “athletic” type.

Well, on this particular movie, my 16-year-old hormones finally kicked in. And there were zits. Horrible zits that danced across my nose and gathered conspiratorially on my chin.

This was a deep betrayal. Generally, my physical development had cooperated with my career. For example, my teeth seem to have been scared straight into freakishly perfect alignment from the moment they poked through my gums. They understood that they were required to stand at attention like good little Hollywood soldiers, since braces would undermine my budding career.

When the copasetic relationship that my body and I once enjoyed came to an abrupt end in the French Riviera, my mother did the proper mother thing and proclaimed my festering acne “Not That Bad.”

Not everyone agreed with this charitable assessment.

One day, the producers awkwardly took me aside.

Producer: "So, Lisa, we're going to give you a little time off, so you can....clear up a bit. We'll just shuffle the shooting schedule around and work on some of the scenes that you're not in."

Translation: you are being suspended from your job on account of your face.

A normal kid with acne would just hang her head low on the school bus and miserably carry on, but I was an actor kid and this “zituation” as we came to call it, was completely unacceptable. It required medical attention.

The producers sent me to the local hospital, in hopes that modern medicine could return me to the glowing, fresh-faced kidnaped girl they needed me to be. The doctor gave me some green stuff that I applied as directed and in a few days my skin was deemed smooth enough to appear in front of a camera as a believable slave for sexual purposes. I was allowed to go back to work.

That was when I realized what kind of job I had. I was in an industry where the entire shooting schedule would be moved around because I wasn't looking as pretty as I was expected to. We were deep in the world of make-believe. I had dirt smeared on my face and twigs in my hair from wallowing in a sex slave dungeon, but they were perfectly placed dirt and twigs. The realities of life had no place here.

But in the end,  you learn how to take the bad along with the good. After all, I got to hang out in the south of France for a while, and I learned how to say “oozing” in French.

It's "suintement."

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Weighing in on weighing in: celebrity gossip

As per usual, there have been a lot of celebrities in the news lately. It's all:

  • Shia LaBeouf
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman
  • Justin Bieber
  • Woody Allen

And I wonder if I should write about these things. Sometimes people expect me to have opinions, perspectives and profound thoughts that shed some new light on the drama. I've written about those things a couple of times in the past and the articles tend to get shared a lot and the blog hits go through the roof.

But it just doesn't feel right to me.

Because really, I can't explain why Philip Seymour Hoffman fell off the wagon after 24 years and why Shia LaBouf put a paper bag on his head. I'd just be speculating and rambling and really - I don't think it's any of my business.

I tried writing something about Justin Bieber a while ago. Something about how I, too, was once a 19-year old Canadian with questionable decision-making skills. But after I wrote it, I thought "so what?" This is not what I care about anymore. I deleted it.

Sometimes I wonder if all this celebrity media attention is not just a big distraction so that we don't have to sit quietly with ourselves and our own lives. It's way more fun to judge Justin Bieber than it is to deal with my own shit. Criticizing someone else's life means I have less time to notice the ways that I deal with the world. But spending my time condemning others is not really going to make my life -  or anyone else's - any better.

So what do I care about? I care about the stuff that we all go through. The stuff that is messy and complicated and in need of constant re-examination. The stuff that keeps us all up at night. I care about trying to figure out how to be an authentic person when so much in our culture is centered around image and status. I care about contributing to the world even though the problems are so much bigger than me. I care about finding different definitions of success. I care about life lessons I've learned from my dog.

I'd really like to avoid having posts on here that are like - "Huh. Yeah. I donno. Some people are weird, I guess." I'm just going to write about things when I feel I have something worthwhile to offer to the public conversation. I've decided that sometimes it's okay to just be quiet.

It's not that all celebrity commentary is trite. There are people who write about entertainment issues and do it really well. My faux little sister Mara Wilson is one of those people who does it thoughtfully, while offering insight and wit. But I realized that I can't do it and feel like my authentic self. I'm still trying to figure out how to navigate these waters of being me, and this particular channel is too turbulent.

Instead of writing something about Woody Allen and feeling like a fraud, I'm just going to stick to the things that are really important: how to survive almost being killed by a manatee.

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A vegetarian contemplates eating the body of Christ

Me at age 13, looking like a creepy little bride Traveling was always my favorite part about working as an actor. I went to fascinating places and lived there for several months at a time. I got to immerse myself in the culture and go beyond the tourist things. I got to learn languages and make friends with bellmen. I will always be grateful for the variety of experiences I had because I was an actor.

Some projects were worth doing for the location alone. Vendetta II, which filmed in Rome, was one such example.

It was a mini-series in which I was playing a blind girl. I was not blind throughout the whole film but rather, my character went blind after a mobster threw her off the side of a mountain in an attempt to hurt her mother, a nun, who was played by the supermodel Carol Alt. So, for half of the mini-series, I was blind until a trip through the Italian countryside restored my site. As beautiful views are prone to do.

As I said, it was mostly about the cool location.

Any self-respecting mafia film requires a healthy dose of religious pageantry. Before my character went blind, she was supposed to take Communion, as one assumes all daughters of nuns would do.

In the scene, I wore a white miniature wedding dress with a veil, and walked down the church aisle with all the dark wood and dark music that one would expect of a Catholic church in the Italian countryside. Having been raised without any religious influence whatsoever, I was clueless as to the procedure involved in this rite of passage. So during rehearsal, I just followed the other girls who seemed to know how to kneel and open their mouths for the Communion wafers.

And then I heard the priest murmur something about the body of Christ.

I had been a strict vegetarian since the age of four, so this totally freaked me out. What the hell was he putting in my mouth?? Eating Christ sounded super gross. During the first take, I took the wafer in my mouth and poked at it with my tongue while trying not to gag.

It didn’t feel like flesh but it certainly didn’t feel like food, either.

What was this stuff?

Was it some sort of pressed chicken Jesus-taste-alike?

Was it plastic prop food?

I had made the mistake of trying to eat prop food before, much to the amusement of the rest of the cast and crew, and was not eager to replicate that experience. Admitting my lack of religious knowledge to the real Italian priest who had been hired to play the role of the priest would have been humiliating. The church was full of about 100 extras who didn't speak much English. Since everyone else seemed to know what was going on, I felt too shy to ask the director or anyone else on the crew. My mom was around somewhere, but I wasn't confident that she would know what this thing was anymore than I did.

I was all alone in a crowd.

And my job was to eat the body of a deity.

I decided to shove the wafer to the roof of my mouth without chewing it. The wafer fit snugly within the half circle of my upper teeth. Then we did another take. And another. There was little time in between, so I just kept shoving the body of Jesus onto the roof of my mouth, getting more and more nervous as I started to lose space on my tongue for the next take’s wafer. Whatever this thing was, it was absorbing all the saliva in my mouth, turning into a sticky clump and making the whole experience rather uncomfortable.

Finally, after almost ten takes, we got the shot and I was able to step outside and get enough privacy to peel the layers of the Lord off the roof of my mouth and chuck it into a nearby courtyard full of birds.

They seemingly had no qualms about the nature of the wafer.

When I went back to the hotel that night after work, I crawled into bed and thought about how lucky I was and what an amazing day I had — I actually got to feed some pigeons.

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The last audition

When I left L.A. and moved to Virginia, I used breakup terms to explain my exit from the film industry. Figure out what I really want.

Find myself.

Get my head together.

It's a break, not a breakup. (Just FYI: it's always a breakup.)

My agent seemed to take it just about as poorly as my ex-boyfriends did.

I wasn't brave enough to make a totally clean break and leap head-first into the unknown Real World. If a script looked really fantastic... if the producers were really interested in me…you know…maybe….

I shoved a tiny wedge in the door and left it open, just a crack. It felt safer that way. Slamming that door shut tight would have left me all alone in the dark.

My agent slithered through that crack. A film was casting and the producers had requested to see me for a role. The project sounded interesting but if I agreed to this, was it just a matter of time before it seemed like a good idea to fly back to L.A. to audition for a guest spot on Everybody Loves Raymond? I really felt like I needed to get out of the film world, but I waffled, scared to leave behind the only moneymaking ability I had. My agent felt her 10% commission slipping away again.

“But, it’s Martin Scorsese!” She squealed.

Well, okay. This was a big deal. He was a big deal. (And still is a big deal.)

I agreed to audition and promptly started freaking out about the idea of going back to work. There was no offer yet, but it suddenly seemed that life needed to change. I needed to lose 4 pounds, get some color on my legs and not dye my hair “Mahogany 51” from a six-dollar bottle from the Rite-Aid. There were so many things to be done and they all sounded horrible.

But sometimes it’s hard to tell if a pounding heart indicates excitement or terror.

When an actor cannot get to the city where the audition sessions are being held, they can do an audition tape where they record themselves reading the lines at home and send it to the producers. They inevitably look like the most horrid home movies.

My boyfriend, Jeremy, was cautiously supportive of this audition. If he had been too supportive he would have been accused of thinking that me leaving L.A. was a mistake. Not supportive enough, and I would have said that he never truly loved or respected me. The poor guy was pretty much relegated to smiling and nodding.

My audition tape set up involved a bed-sheet duct taped to hang over a closet door, providing a neutral background. It always looked exactly like a duct-taped sheet. A complicated system of IKEA floor lamps and vertical blind manipulation created a lighting situation that made me look about 57 years old.

My dogs, having just moved across the country and into my boyfriend's flimsy, bare, grad-student apartment, were feeling a little needy and would bark and whine whenever they felt excluded. So, for the sake of the sound, one dog remained seated on my lap with the other curled up at my feet. We framed the shot close enough that the animals were cut out.

Finally we began. I had a lengthy speech before Jeremy had his first line. He said it and it was loud.

And it was British.

For some reason, he was using his from-the-diaphragm theater-training voice, although the microphone was mere inches from his face. He also had some sort of odd, Cockney accent. This character is not British. Jeremy is not British. There is absolutely no reason for this behavior. Ah! He is trying to make me laugh so I am more comfortable. He is probably not even filming.

“Stop, stop, stop.” I laughed and waved my hands in front of my face. Jeremy turned the camera off. Damn, he was filming.

“You were doing great. What’s wrong?” He asked.

“Yeah, I was fine, but what were you doing?”

“What do you mean?”

“Were you trying to be funny?”

“Did I say it funny?”

I explained to Jeremy that the mic is right near him and maybe he should be quieter so that our sound levels match. I assumed he knew the accent needed to go.

We started again, and again he was loud and even more heavily accented. I tried to get through the scene with the ridiculousness of the emotionally unsettled dog on my lap and the loud British man reading with me. It wasn't good. I wasn't good.

It was all just uncomfortable. I felt like a grown-up woman trying fit into the jeans she wore in middle-school. I was half-heartedly trying to recreate a moment whose time had past. 

When we finished, we watched the video back to see exactly how much of a train wreck the thing was.

“Wow,” Jeremy says  “I was really loud. And do I have some sort of accent? Oh, you did great, though.”

I did not get the job. I tried to imagine Mr. Scorsese watching this thing, squinting in confusion at the drooping sheet background, the dog ears that occasionally popped in to view and my loud friend from the British Isles. I could blame it on any of those things, but whatever the reason, there was no offer.

And that's how it goes. You usually don’t know the reason you don’t get a job. When it was released, we went to see The Aviator in theaters. Gwen Stefani played the role I read for.

It was at that moment, in the darkened theater, that I realized I didn't want to be Gwen Stefani. I wasn't longing to be up there, taking direction from even the great Martin Scorsese. I wanted to be right where I was. Living in a flimsy grad-student apartment, with a couple of neurotic dogs and a boyfriend who inexplicably broke into foreign accents. That was where I was truly happy. I didn't want the complication of trying to impress Hollywood with duct taped sheets and IKEA floor lamps. I wanted to have pasty legs and hair the color of Mahogany 51.

I had no clue what was next in my life, what might happen after those credits rolled, but I knew I was done with acting. I had done it already. It was that simple.

So, that was the last project I auditioned for.

That audition had been the breakup sex. It was the one more time that you go back and give the relationship that last chance...only to find it was as awkward and unfulfilling as you remembered. But we all need that one last fling, that experience that lets you finally walk away with a few good stories, but absolutely no remorse.

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The Happy Birthday person

The anonymity of the internet can be a dangerous thing. It gives people the chance to voice their most nasty thoughts without having any accountability. Comment sections can be brutal, heartless and shockingly cruel. They tend to look like something you'd see in the Roman Colosseum circa 80 AD. They even have a handy little "thumbs down" button. But that is just half the story. The internet also allows for connection on a level that is broader than ever before. Some might say that it's a superficial connection, but since Facebook is the only reasonable way for me to stay in touch with my friends in Zimbabwe, it doesn't feel superficial to me. It offers access to people you couldn't reach before and there can be a true sense of community. It might feel a little different from a community that is created by a cul-de-sac but it's a community, none the less.

There is someone on the IMDB  message boards who wishes me a happy birthday every year.

On my actual birthday.

That's pretty awesome.

It's so easy to become infuriated with the media. It just takes one story about Anne Hathaway ducking into the car of a total stranger so that she can ditch TMZ, and I'm ready to go on an obscenity-filled rampage. But then, I am reminded that most people are not like that. Most people who are interested in movies simply love film and love actors and want to connect. I've met many of you via Facebook, Twitter and email over the past several weeks since I've started this blog. And you know what?  You're cool.

Since I've been completely hiding from my old life for the past decade, I've not had the proper venue for acknowledging the kind act of that dedicated birthday well-wisher. I always felt too shy to say it before. But I've been getting braver lately.

So, thanks, No-one2 for all your thoughtful messages. They have meant a lot to me.

And thank you to everyone who has written and welcomed me with open arms. I've loved hearing your stories of how you took the path less traveled and made difficult choices to pursue your own happiness.

I'll quote someone who emailed me and say that it's been wonderful to connect with you, "one normal person to another."

Isn't that what it's all about, anyway?

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Money: how film residuals work

It's surprising to me that people actually ask me how much money I make. I guess they have heard about "residuals" and are just curious to know how that works, but it seems like a ridiculous thing to ask. I feel like they should follow-up by asking for my weight and the date of my last period.

But people wonder about these things so I need to come up with some sort of answer.

I heard that somebody who had worked on Jurassic Park went to their mailbox one day to find a check for $100,000. I'm not sure if that is really true, or just one of those urban legends that was intended to increase morale amongst us working actors in a sometimes brutal industry.

Just to be clear, I have never stumbled across such a residual check.

Here's how it works - when my movies or TV shows are rented or shown on television, I get a fraction of a penny. Those pennies get bundled together and the checks arrive randomly, sometimes a couple of them show up one week, other times there is nothing for months.

The amount has diminished over time, these days, the average check is about $4.71. Occasionally they are more and my husband and I get to have a nice dinner out. But then there are times when the check wouldn't cover the price of the stamp and it can be a little embarrassing to take a 23 cent check to the bank.

Foreign residuals are always fun; it's neat to get a check for $17 because one of my disease-of-the-week TV movies was on cable in Denmark.

It's nothing life-altering and it's certainly nothing that you can depend on. At some point, the term "residual" started to be reminiscent something that gets stuck to the bottom of your shoe rather than a legitimate source of income.

But regardless of the amount, it's appreciated, because what kind of asshole doesn't appreciate random money showing up for something that they did 20 years ago?

Even if it is less than they would get from babysitting.

Check back next week when I will be posting about my weight and the date of my last period.

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Watching car commercials gets awkward

Sometimes, I'll be watching TV with my husband and an innocuous little car commercial comes on and he has to hear me yell - "Hey! I made out with that guy!"

My poor husband.

It's true that people tend to hook up on film sets. Shoots tend to be intense situations and people get very close, very fast. But to me, it never felt like a hook up. It always felt like LOVE.

This version of love only lasts for the duration of the project, yet has all the attributes of actual love. I think I fell in love with someone from the cast or crew on almost every project I was in. If the shoot was long, I might have fallen in love with two someones.

As an actor, throwing yourself into an on-set relationship is a way to feel like yourself when you spend 15 hours a day becoming someone else. It is the most basic way to keep a handle on your humanity. To give and receive love reminds you that even though you are doing something that seems so strange and fascinating to the rest of the world — you love just like everyone else. Your heart leaps when they walk in the room and you cry when they don’t call.

It’s simple. It’s normal. And sometimes, normal is the thing you need most.

Then, inevitably, when a show wrap is called and the set is broken down, the love flies into the stage lights like a moth and dies in a puff of smoke. Quickly and cleanly.

But it gets awkward, decades later, when you see that guy on a car commercial and you realize that you can only remember the name of his character, not his real name.

Let me say again: my poor husband. Most men don't have to see their wives' ex-boyfriends parade through the living room during commercial breaks while watching the NCAA championships.

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Hello, my name is Lisa Jakub and I used to be an actor (Or: The answer to "why did you quit acting?")

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Hello, my name is Lisa Jakub. But most people in a restaurant/dentist’s office/yoga studio dressing room, call me “Hey, you look like that girl from Mrs. Doubtfire/Independence Day/Matinee.”

There is a good reason for that. I am that girl. More accurately, I was that girl. Or maybe I always will be her. Twenty years later, I’m still trying to work that part out.

These days, I’m an author, speaker, workshop leader, yoga teacher, and a happily retired actor.

The actor part is an awkward thing for me to write about. Because I spent ten years running from my past. A friend said that I’m so dodgy about my old life, that I behave like someone who killed her entire family and moved out of state.

I’m that elusive about it.

But I didn’t kill anyone.

I was just an actor.

But sometimes when people find out I was an actor, it changes how they see me. They seem to think that I’m somehow inherently different from them. And they always look at me with a thoroughly perplexed look on their face – and say "why would you ever leave Hollywood?"

You’ve probably left a job before. Why did you leave? Probably because you didn’t enjoy it anymore. Maybe something about that job didn’t feel authentic to you or fit in with what you wanted from life. There were probably parts of your job that you really liked, but one day, when you made your pro and con list — the con side was longer. Maybe you had done the job for eighteen years - like I had. Maybe it was time to do something new. That’s why I left my job.

I didn’t hate it. It wasn’t awful and I’m not whining about how hard my life was. Parts of my job were wonderful. But then I got to the point where the competition and the politics and the superficial nature of the industry started to get to me. I felt like a phony who was trying to live someone else's dream. My anxiety and depression intensified. So, I decided I should leave, before I became one of those alcoholic/eating disorder ravaged/drug addicted train wrecks of a former child actor. I had no desire to be a cautionary tale.

But when people recognize me, it’s hard to explain all that, because movies and fame have become such a revered thing in our society. It makes me look special or different or weird – when in fact, I’m just figuring my way through the world. Just like everyone else.

So, when I left L.A., I tried to bury Lisa Jakub. I went to college, got married, became a writer and learned how to do normal-people things like use my stove. When people said, "you look like that girl..." I said, "yeah, I get that a lot." And ran away. I was trying to forget that the old life existed.

Everyone has something that they try to cover up about themselves, something that makes them feel different and a little strange. Something that they worry will make them not quite fit in, like that quickie divorce or the anxiety disorder or the funny-looking thing on their foot.

Movies happen to be that thing for me.

Have you ever tried to run away from something? Every time you turn around, you always find it sitting right on your shoulder. In my new life, I’m a writer and I process my whole life through words on a page. It comforts me, organizes me, and helps me make sense of the world. Through writing this blog and my first book, You Look Like That Girl, and then my second book, Not Just Me I’ve learned how to have a healthy relationship with this part of my life.

I don't run away anymore.

Movies don't have to be front and center because I don't think that what I did when I was fourteen years old is the most important or interesting thing about me.

I just don’t want to pretend anymore.